Cavanaugh Bell

When Cavanaugh Bell was in kindergarten and his classmates called him “weird,” he asked his mother if he could go talk to the president. He said he didn’t want other children to feel the “darkness inside” he felt when he was teased at school. He told her he wanted to “go get a law on this.”

Llacey Simmons told his son it might be difficult to get the president’s attention, but he could try the mayor and city council. So in January 2019, at the age of 6, Cavanaugh stepped onto the podium at a Gaithersburg city council meeting and requested that a day be set aside for Bullying Awareness Day in the city. city ​​of Gaithersburg. (It is now February 21.) “He’s thoughtful beyond his years,” said Mayor Jud Ashman.

Today, the 9-year-old runs a non-profit organization called Cool & Dope, which he founded three years ago with the goal of ending bullying by 2030, the year he turns 18. His title is the main creator of positivity and he leads the group from the Gaithersburg house he shares with his mother, aunt and cousins.

When the pandemic struck, Cavanaugh used his own savings to create care packages for his grandmother and other residents of his retirement home, but decided he wanted to do more. He posted on Cool & Dope’s social media accounts that he was hoping to open a pantry and needed help. The media picked up on the story and soon even Barbra Streisand tweeted about it. Cavanaugh didn’t know who Streisand was, but “my mom told me she was a really good singer,” he says.

With around 100 volunteers (many of them children), a warehouse borrowed from Gaithersburg and $ 10,000 in donations, Cavanaugh opened his pantry in April 2020. Cars pulled up and their chests were loaded with fruits and vegetables. fresh, milk, long shelf life. food and hygiene products. Cavanaugh’s father Clifford Bell, who lives in Laurel, helped out on the weekends, picking up donated produce from nearby orchards and hot meals from local restaurants, then delivering them to the pantry for distribution.

By the time the pantry closed in November 2020 (when the organization lost its free warehouse space), Cool & Dope had raised enough donations to serve around 18,000 people, Simmons says. And that help went beyond Montgomery County: Cavanaugh had visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota on a trip across the country with his mother in 2017 and was struck by the poor conditions of life, so he asked if Cool & Dope could help people here too. A total of four 53-foot trailers full of food and supplies made trips to the reservation in 2020 and 2021, Simmons says.

In May 2020, so-Sen. Kamala Harris had Cavanaugh as a guest on her YouTube show. “When you were my age… did you know you wanted to help others? He asked Harris on Zoom. Yes, she replied, “I haven’t started a pantry, however. It’s a big problem. After the election, Team Biden called Simmons to ask if Cavanaugh would be appearing on the “Celebrating America” TV special on the opening night. (He pre-recorded the introduction to a song performed by Justin Timberlake and Ant Clemons). And in February 2021, Cavanaugh met by video conference with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who presented him with an official citation for his activism and philanthropy.

But Cavanaugh’s favorite moment came last September, when he and Simmons were airlifted to Atlanta so he could appear on The Steve Harvey Show. “Not many people get to meet Steve Harvey,” he says. “It was really cool for me.”

Simmons says that Cool & Dope’s work to end bullying, help underserved communities and tackle food insecurity is part of its larger mission: to empower children to become community leaders in them. showing “how to speak and express themselves, and… that their voice counts”. His son wants to be mayor when he grows up. “I used to want to be president,” Cavanaugh says, “but a mayor can do a lot more.”